‘That’s what twenty-first-century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.’ An eloquent closing statement from a man who has patented his own, discernible command of such rhetoric throughout a long and illustrious political career. That man, of course, is a certain Mr Barack Obama, President of the United States.
In an essay published a few weeks ago on his 55th birthday, President Obama shared his experience with feminism, writing: ‘It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too. And as spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.’
‘The progress we’ve made in the past 100 years, 50 years, and, yes, even the past eight years has made life significantly better for my daughters than it was for my grandmothers. And I say that not just as President but also as a feminist.’
Bang. We hear ya, Barry.
Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, preceded his close neighbour with a number of vocal displays of support for feminist thought. ‘I’ll keep saying I’m a feminist until it stops getting a reaction,’ he quipped. He’s not alone, either. Within the last year especially, a number of prominent world figures have expressed their pride as self-declared feminist thinkers. Going on headlines alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a change in tide.
Which brings us to Old Blighty. Now, unless you’ve been living under a big, disaster-proof rock (and if you have, in this case, it might be best to hang tight for a little while longer), you’ll be aware that Theresa May is currently the Prime Minister of Great Britain, having been ushered in during the Brexit aftermath. While her appointment primarily inspired debate regarding the approach she’d take to Britain’s exit from the European Union, much of the analysis regarding her impending tenancy also focused on what her tenure would mean for women. After all, regardless of your political affiliation, or thoughts on May herself, a woman in charge of the country had to be a good thing for British feminists – right?
Well, kind of. As of now, we’re just over a month into May’s leadership, so it’s too early to say where she’s heading – though it’s worth nothing that her cabinet appointments signalled promotions for a number of female MPs. In the past, we’ve seen her allude to her status as a feminist (she’s also been snapped wearing a This Is What A Feminist Looks Like t-shirt), but seems always to have done so with the demeanour of a child trying to justify a new-found fondness for risky behaviour.
“It’s that age-old question that some people don’t like the term ‘feminist’ because they think it portrays a certain type of woman,” she said, in a 2015 interview while still Home Secretary. “To me, it’s about ensuring there’s a level playing field and equal opportunity.”
Fair enough, but it’s still not really all that convincing, is it – especially considering the platform she’s had for the past six years to put herself on record. Her statements have come across as a half-hearted, and a little trepidatious; but this isn’t a problem with May specifically. Rather, it reinforces the notion that there’s a much wider problem with the F word in British politics on a universal scale. When May says that ‘some people don’t like the word feminist’, what she’s really getting at is that the word feminist comes smothered in complete fucking taboo when it comes to the Westminster Brigade. For them, putting themselves in a category that they archaically associate with repellence and hatred is just too risky. Image is everything, and nobody wants to be the man hater.
Take the Tory MP Phillip Davies, for instance. During a speech at a men’s rights conference (consider that for a moment, if you will), he claimed that ‘in this day and age the feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it’, adding that ‘they fight for their version of equality on all the things that suit women – but are very quick to point out that women need special protections and treatment on other things.’ While Davies is clearly very, very special in his status as a complete fucking moron, the sheer reality of an elected Member of British Parliament feeling that it’s acceptable to carry such an insultingly anachronistic opinion – publicly – speaks volumes for a large proportion of the Westminster bubble view feminism. While attitudes around the world are slowly shifting, and progressive thinking is beginning to take the mantle, the majority of mainstream, British politics still associate feminism with negative connotation. It’s sad, and it’s boring.
Theresa May, as the elected leader of this country, has been gifted a fantastic opportunity to promote a different school of thought. If it were me, I’d start by following the lead of Trudeau and Obama. Whilst many will critique the emptiness of rhetoric, I find that it’s always the best place to begin action – and you’d be surprised by the snowball effect an impassioned public declaration can have.
Actually, no. That’s a lie. I’d start by taking Davies back to the time-resistant cave from which he crawled, so that he can sit in his pants and draw penises on the walls in crayon with the rest of his incumbent race of beige-souled non-entities. Then, well – see the previous paragraph.
Despite having a woman in charge, Britain is still lagging behind on the world stage. Theresa May is the best-placed person to change that.
Words by Niall Flynn